If you’ve never visited Scotland before, then stop what you’re doing, get on the web, find somewhere suitable to stay, and book a trip up there ASAP. Seriously, just do it, you’ll love it!
Scotland is one of the UK’s most gorgeous countries, home to Highland cattle, distilleries producing the finest whiskey known to man, burly Scotsmen, cities steeped in culture and tradition, and some of the finest coast and countryside you could ever wish to see.
When people think of Scotland, often they’ll think of tartan kilts, bagpipes, fluorescent fizzy drink favourite Irn Bru, and a national dish that will divide opinions quicker than debates discussing whether Ronaldo or Messi is the best footballer in the world.
The scots are a friendly bunch, and they’re also very traditional, which is what I want to talk to you about today. You see, in today’s article, I’m going to be looking at se7en of the most interesting traditions from Scotland.
Check them out, and be sure to let me know what you think.
The Highland Games
No article looking at Scottish traditions would be complete without talking about the Highland Games, which is precisely why I’m starting off with arguably the most famous Scottish tradition first.
The Highland Games are synonymous with Scotland and take place each year in the summer months between May and September at over 80 different events across the country.
The Highland Games have been a part of Scottish tradition since, well, who knows? You see, the origins of the Highland Games predate recorded history, so that alone should give you an idea about just how long they’ve been going on.
The first recorded mention of the games is from around 1031 – 1093.
Here, big burly Scotsmen in kilts will put their muscles to the test in events such as the hammer toss, tug-o-war, hill races, and of course, tossing the caber.
As well as watching the athletes battle it out, spectators, which include the Queen herself, can also enjoy live music, live entertainment, and delicious Scottish food.
Haggis is Scotland’s national dish, and it is the one I mentioned earlier which people either tend to love or loathe.
I personally think that it’s delicious, especially when enjoyed with ‘Neeps’ and ‘tatties’ (mashed turnips and potatoes) as well as a rich whiskey sauce.
Haggis is made from minced offal, usually including heart, lungs, kidney, liver, and sometimes even brains, that have been cooked with oatmeal, oats, suet, onions, and a secret blend of spices and seasonings, before being sealed inside an animal stomach or intestine casing.
It sounds gross, but honestly, it’s lovely, and I know my food!
Haggis Hurling is a relatively new tradition which was invented in 1977 as a joke, before being used in the Highland Games as a charity event to raise money.
Over the years, though, it has evolved to become a professional sport in Bonnie Scotland.
The idea of this tradition came from the 17th century when Scottish women would hurl cooked Haggis’ over rivers to their husbands working in the fields to help save time and effort.
The concept is very simple – hurl the haggis as far as possible without it splitting or bursting.
Coal was the backbone of the industrial revolution in Great Britain, and Scotland, as well as much of Northern England, have a rich and storied history with the black stuff.
At noon one day each summer, athletes will strap a sack of coal to their backs and run uphill, over 1km, through the village of Kelty.
Since 1994 this race has been going on, as a way of paying tribute to the industrial history of Fife coalfield.
The winner is the first athlete to set off from the smiddy and reach the village school with his or her sack of coal still intact.
Blackening the Groom
If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to experience a traditional Scottish wedding, you’ll no doubt remember it for the rest of your life.
The Blackening of the Groom may sound ominous, but it is actually a good thing.
Before a wedding, Blackenings were carried out to ward off evil spirits before a wedding took place.
Though rare, blackenings do still take place and normally see a groom taken by his friends and family on the morning of his wedding, and doused in black soot, tar, and feathers.
You’ve heard of spring cleaning no doubt, but what about Redding?
If not, Redding is very simply the Scottish equivalent of a Spring clean that is carried out on New Year’s Eve.
The idea here is that households should be clean and tidy by the bells of the New Year chime, to signify a clean slate and good luck for the New Year.
To really get traditional, you could also burn juniper as this would ward off evil spirits and disease and signify good health and good luck for the New Year.
Every evening on the 25th of January, Scottish households all over the country will celebrate Burns Night.
Burns Night is held in the tradition of Robert ‘Rabbie’ Burns, Scotland’s beloved national poet.
The first Burns Night was held in 1801 when nine of the poet’s closest friends got together to pay tribute to him 5 years after he passed away.
The night included a Burns supper consisting of Haggis, Tatties, Neeps, and of course Whiskey, before readings of his most famous works were performed.
Incidentally, the first Burns Night was held in the summer on the anniversary of his death in July. Because the night was such a huge success, though, the next Burns Night was held in the winter, on his birthday on the 25th of January, and the tradition has carried on ever since.
Burning the Clavie
In 1752, when Britain switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, not everywhere happened to follow suit.
You see, Burghead was slightly slower than the rest of the UK and in actual fact, this small Morayshire town celebrates New Year on the 10th of January to this very day.
Each year on the 11th of January, the Burning of the Clavie takes place in Burghead, and it is one ceremony to behold.
This fire festival, which also happens to be one of the few fire ceremonies which survived when the Catholic church chose to purge Pagan fire rituals, involves the burning of a hooped barrel known as a Clavie.
This half barrel is filled with tar and wood shavings and is hammered onto a carrying post with a nail. This nail, though, is not any old nail, it is the same huge sized nail every single year.
Locals then set the barrel alight and carry it on their shoulders through the village whilst it burns away. They then stop off at random households to present smouldering embers which are then used to start housefires to bring good luck for the rest of the year.
The procession makes its way towards a headland on Doorie Hill, sitting on the ruins of an altar. The barrel is then thrown onto a bonfire made up of split casks and as the barrel falls apart, locals gather up the glowing embers and take them home to start fires with and bring themselves and their households good luck.
Scotland’s traditions are fascinating! Which one would you like to participate in?
Until next time stay safe, stay curious and don’t stop wandering!